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Wagon Survivor: 1988 Dodge Aries LE

There are some cars you’re not even remotely surprised to see come out of an elderly driver’s garage in pristine condition. The Dodge Aires wagon is one of those vehicles, as older owners just seemed to gravitate towards a vehicle like this: not too big, not too small, and room for the grandkids should they want to tag along. It’s also the car you might buy in the twilight of your life when big and flashy is no longer a concern; just something that can be bought in cash and used for short hops into town. This Aires is likely still quite good at those tasks given the low mileage of just 37,000. Find it here on eBay with a price of $6,000 and the option to submit a best offer.

I’m a big fan of wagons – no question, as they just make so much sense compared to driving a bruising SUV. Just yesterday, I loaded up my 2011 BMW 328xi Sportwagon with loads of junkyard parts, threw some more in the cargo box up top, all while driving a car that’s still able to out-handle 90 percent of the rigs on the road. Now, you’re not buying an Aires for its road-holding abilities, but the theory still applies that you can cram an incredible amount of stuff into a longroof with the seats down, and even more with some additional racks and boxes should you need to go beyond the capacity of the interior confines. Given the spotless carpets, I don’t think much of anything was ever hauled in this Aires LE.

The same cannot be said for my daily driver. It bears the scars of rough, heavy objects being crammed inside, and while there is a mile cringe factor that gets triggered, this is also why I bought it (along with being one of a few hundred that came with the six-speed manual from the factory). No self-shifting here, as the Aires were largely all automatic-equipped (was a manual ever offered?), and certainly the older owner had little interest in operating a clutch pedal in a wagon, no less. The seat upholstery mimics the cargo bay, presenting in exceptionally clean condition, and additional gallery photos show the fake wood trim is in nice shape and the OEM radio remains in place.

The naturally aspirated four-cylinder is said to run well, and the seller reports no mechanical issues of any kind. Though it’s reportedly in fine shape mechanically, there’s no suggestion of the Aires coming with a folder of service records, despite the fact that older drivers tend to be fairly fastidious about things like that. Regardless, people liked these cars for the impressive reliability they offered, so it will likely be fairly problem-free given it led to a gently-used existence. The Aires is certainly an 80s icon, and while not a classic in the traditional sense, they certainly are building a following. Have you ever driven one?

Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    Well said Jeff. My grandfather had a late 80’s Chrysler town and country K car wagon. His was about in the same condition low miles and rarely driven. He was a station wagon guy for as long as I could remember. His main reason for buying it and trading the full size LeBaron T&C wagon was support Chrysler. He believed in Lee Iacocca as did many Americans in the early 80’s. The early 80’s was a tough time for American companies and Lee was Chrysler’s savior.
    I remember taking it to the shop on Saturday. I promised him I would look it over and replace the timing belt due to age but not miles. Got out of the car and closed the door. Locked the keys in the ignition because I accidentally bumped the lock button next to the inside door release. So frustrated that the car would let you do that. All the euro stuff I worked on didn’t do that. Needless to say I had no love for that car.

    Like 8
    • Howard Kerr

      Euro cars may not have allowed you to lock your keys in the ignition when you got out of the car, but my 92 Acura Integra certainly did.
      I was delivering pizzas in the early 2000s and on my first delivery of the night I heard on unfamiliar clunk as I was getting out of the car. Not only was I locked out of the car, but the customer’s pizza order was locked in the back seat.
      BTW, the locksmith who came to open the door must have come directly from his ” library “, he had a significant trail of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of 1 shoe….and managed, somehow, to not see it.

      Like 1
  2. CJinSD

    I like the car. It is an interesting piece of history, and most of it is in nice shape. The rust looks much more serious than I would want to take on repairing for a car that is really a curiosity, and that’s without looking underneath.

    Like 3
    • Steve R

      The only thing justifying a high asking price on cars like this is condition, it’s too generic. They need to be almost perfect or they are just fair weather beaters and should valued as such. This wagon, though unique today, doesn’t stand on its own merits, smart buyers will keep looking until they find a different generic car in better condition.

      Steve R

      Like 5
  3. ERIC

    We had an ’83 Aries wagon growing up. It wasn’t bad. I liked it better than its predecessor (Fairmont wagon) or successor (Aerostar Minivan), but not nearly enough to want this for old times sake.

    Like 4
  4. Rhett

    I drove an Aries sedan as a company car for a couple years. Never loved it, but never could find a reason to dislike it either. And because I didn’t have to pay for maintenance, I abused the living daylights out of it but it never broke. Same can be said for the Plymouth Acclaim that came along a few years later. In between I had a Tempo, and yes I was able to break that. A lot. So there’s a lot of car here for the right buyer, but that buyer has to have some real fond memories associated for 6k…..

    Like 10
  5. Dan C

    For the right price (which $6k is not) I’d buy one and use it for my pizza delivery job.

    Like 3
  6. Sam61

    Like it for $4,500. I wonder if you could GLH the motor? My grandmothers last car was a 4dr Dodge 400 after downsizing from a forest green 77 Chrysler Newport…vinyl top and broadcaid interior.

    Side note on interiors. I like my leather but some nice cozy pleated/quilted fabric with some would be a welcome change from Detroit…whoops, Asia and Europe.

    Like 1
    • Mr.BZ

      I love that GLH idea!

      Like 1
    • PRA4SNW

      Better yet, GLH-T the engine.

      Like 1
    • dwcisme

      The GHL motor was a 2.2 (this may be a 2.5) but regardless there shouldn’t be anything stopping a hot rod Aries build. All the 80’s Daytona/Lazer, Spirit/Acclaim and even turbo Caravan bits, mechanical and suspension, would be compatible since they were built on the same platform. In fact, the GLH suspension was mostly K-car parts (Shelby was a hot rodder. He took parts from heavier cars and put them on a lighter car to make it faster.) Best part was, these things were stupid easy to work on. You could even do an oil change on the 2.2/2.5 without crawling under the car. I’d love the thing myself but not at $6k.

      Like 0
  7. Chester

    No six speeds, only 5 speeds in those days.

    Like 3
    • nlpnt

      I think some early K cars had 4 speed manuals. Either way, three pedals (not counting the step-on parking brake of course) were standard on K-cars through the whole run, on all 3 body styles. Only padded-top LeBarons, long wheelbase New Yorker/E Class/Caravelles (and non-ES Dodge 600s), and certain year convertibles were auto only. The take rate is another matter, they only seem to have been really common on base models, Lancer/GTSs and the sportier coupes (and L-bodies).

      Like 3
  8. Howard Kerr

    I almost bought a very similar looking wagon about 30 years ago. What worked against it was a similar price but more than double the mileage. And I seem to remember that the one I was looking at had bucket front seats.
    This is a decent, honest, car, and after a few decades I am again in the market for a station wagon. Unfortunately, this is also a bit plain compared to other choices out there. Still, if this is what you are looking for, you could do worse.

    Like 1
  9. George Louis

    My Elderly neighbor purchased a 1984 Dodge Aries Wagon same color as this one for sale, same cloth interior. There was him, his wife, and a Dalmation dog named Duke. He used this car for picking up lumber and groceries and giving Duke his customary TWO rides a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I remember he traded the car and bought a 1987 Dodge Caravan Extended model. I saw his station wagon on the dealers used car lot and it still had a lot of Duke’s dog hair in the interior, there was dog hair all over the place.The reason why Chrysler stopped building Aries and Plymouth Reliant Station Wagons is they felt the Mini Van offered more value for the money to the customer and of course more PROFITS for the company.

    Like 2
  10. Vance

    6 large for this? It doesn’t feel like April 1, was this car 6k new? My ex-wife’s Grandfather bought a Dodge Dynasty because he retired from Mopar. I told my brother-in-law it was simply a dressed up K-car ( which it was ). Well he told Gramps, he didn’t like me from then on. The K-car did save Mopar, it sure didn’t save my marriage.

    Like 5
  11. Geoff

    Used to check these out of the county motor pool back in the 80s. Probably one of the most profoundly boring and mediocre vehicles I can remember. Nothing really awful about it just meh in every respect. Still it was better than the Chevy citations of the day. Can’t imagine any one paying 6K for one even if low miles but I guess we’ll see.

    Like 1
  12. That AMC Guy

    I had a Plymouth Reliant as a company car, I think a 1983 or 1984 model. Same color as this, or close. Picked it up brand new from the dealer and it started falling apart almost immediately. That car became something of a (non) running joke in the office. I think some people even made book on whether I’d have to be towed on any particular day.

    Like 1
  13. Steve

    A Reliant sedan was my first car. It was formerly my grandmother’s car. Old ladies thought it was a Mercedes. The bench seat was very comfortable and the AC when it was alive was very good. After awhile things started breaking. Eventually the head gasket blew and that was it. I owned that car in my formative years as a 20 something but I have no desire to relive that vehicle again. It served a purpose at the time but I felt very uncool in it. I can’t imagine anyone paying $6k for it unless the sentimental value is enough to dull the senses.

    Like 0
  14. scott m

    They don’t make greenhouses like that anymore 🤗

    Like 0
  15. Steve/EastCoast

    never much to love, not much to dislike either, like a generic store brand of chocolate chip cookies. Soooo plain. Might not qualify up to “boring.” Chrysler in those days really mastered (cost cutting production and) “forgettable.” My dad had a sedan and it never quit on him and over a long time the driver’s seat developed ever-enlarging hole where the posterior goes, until driver was nearly on the floor. So he got a chair cushion. I had an Acclaim, about which not much could be “acclaimed,” but I liked it because I never had to think about it and it never cost me anything. So bland, they were unnoticeable on the road, you’d never get pulled over because they didn’t go that fast. Economical, reliable to a fault…collectible? I guess if it’s collectible/classic for you, then it’s collectible/classic.

    Like 0
  16. Mike

    I know they saved Chrysler, but the K cars are some of the most bland, uninteresting cars ever produced. Meh. 😒

    Like 0
  17. C.Jay

    In 1988 I bought a 1981 K-car coupe 4 cylinder, 4 speed (which I swapped out for a 5 speed) drove it HARD for 8 years. Not perfect but one car I actually miss.

    Like 3
  18. DocW

    Had a few of these in the 80s and early 90s. Basic transportation. Nothing fancy. Needed to change distributor cap and plug wires every 5 to 6 k miles otherwise the cars would start to misfire.
    I see why the asking price. From the Gold Coast of Connecticut. Everything there is twice as expensive as elsewhere.
    Looks like a decent car at $2500 to $3000.

    Like 0
  19. K-Car Bill

    If you want a real laugh, check out the K-Car group on Facebook. There’s one that’s cool but another that is run by this completely wacky, crazy weirdo that goes nuts on people and literally stalks and harasses anyone that he thinks is crushing or junking a K-Car. He always claims that there is only one left in existence in a particular state, etc. The guy is an absolute looney toon.

    Like 1
  20. RNR

    My wife had two Aries wagons, a ‘84 and a ‘86. Bought both used. Our first one didn’t have a/c. She was 8 1/2 months pregnant in July of ‘91 and as we passed a Chrysler Plymouth dealership on a particularly hot ride to her doctor’s appointment, she spotted the ‘86 in the back row. It had air and we charged it to our Visa card then and there.

    I thought the K wagons were not bad cars, a nice size, had great visibility, and the ‘86, black with a red gut, was good looking in a conservative sort of way. The Caravans that followed were better vehicles.

    Like 2
  21. Motorcityman

    Is it April Fools Day already??

    Like 0
  22. Steve Clinton

    A perfect daily driver for around $3,500!

    Like 1
  23. Joe

    No belt on the a/c compressor-like this wagon overall – a ‘relic’ for sure.

    An inlaw had a first year 2 door Aires with the 2.2L motor (1981?). Red with red velour seating, nice looking car and drove well – don’t recall her having any serious issues with it other than the dysfunctional local CPD dealers (every last one!).

    Our first new car together was the newly introduced 1985 Chrysler LeBaron GTS 2.2L, Biege Metallic with a similar colored velour interior. We actually wanted a Honda Accord SE Sedan, but used ones sold for over the new car list prices during this time frame. All similar japanese cars during this time frame sold for a premium and were hard to get.

    Local dealers for American brand cars would still wheel and deal to make the sale, even with newly introduced cars of the period, like the GTS, Lancer and Tempo. Seems like we bought our nicely equipped, non-premium model for at least $1,500 off of $9,000 list(?).

    Only minor problems, dealers were useless. Our first car with a factory moonroof (pop up). Good memories overall. Wife took it with her after the divorce – don’t know what happened to it as she (and the people she let drive them) destroyed her vehicles left and right.

    My most recent purchase of my 2020 Chrysler 300s 5.7L is my first Chrysler Corp. vehicle since – a very good product from the Chrysler-Diamler era with many updates. Haven’t dealt with the local dealer service departments yet as the initial service is still a ways off.

    Like 0
  24. Papa Bear

    Had an ‘81. Great little car. Could go anywhere in snow country. Low maintenance. Decent gas mileage. 2.2 good. 2.6 Mitsubishi motor noted for blowing head gaskets.

    Like 0
  25. Richard chuda

    My company car was a 1984 Aries coupe, 5 speed manual We did have some in fleet that were sedans with 4 speeds. Nothing luxurious but did the job. All had manual windows and some had A/C.

    Like 0
  26. chrlsful

    “…ever driven one?…?
    now there’s a nice one I’d daily yr in and yr out. Owner of 2 dart waggys (near 20 yrs, 300K mi worth, both 170ci slanties) I actually drove these K wagons livery for 1/2 decade in a neighbor’s co.
    Wuz this the 1st of the Majors to go frnt wheel drive (or citation did it?)? 100 inch wheel base just right (inside volume, parkability, MPGs). I’ll take 1 in white, 1 green – both w/slippery upholstery, swap out to a 4 speed auto (OD).

    Like 0
  27. CJM

    Great cars! My grandmother owned and 88 like this one. Roomy, great on gas, and reliable. You COULD get a 5 speed manual floor shift in these, even as late as 1988, which came with the standard bucket seats. The automatic was extra cost. Few were made though. This one appears to have been sold. Surprising as due to the rust, cracked tires and interior wear, I would not think it would bring close to 6k. These cars used to be EVERYWHERE, and now you hardly ever see one.

    Like 0
    • Motorcityman

      U don’t see them anymore because even though they sold a lot of them they tended to start to fall apart after 80,000 or so miles!
      Now im sure somebody will post thst their Granpa had one with 185,000 miles on it but that wasn’t the norm.
      U definately wanted a manual though, Chrysler built a LOT of bad auto trannys, dont get me started on the Caravans and Voyagers biodegradable auto trans of the 80s and through the 90s.

      Like 0
      • CJM

        The only issue they had was rust, not mechanicals. They will pretty much run forever. You are speaking of the 4 speed OD “Ultradrive” trasnsmissions that had the issues. These were never put in the K cars. K cars used a mainly bulletproof 3 speed A413 Torqueflite.

        Like 0
  28. Major Thom

    So this is a good “Aires”? Buenos Aires?

    Like 0
  29. Jim

    Everything you said in the opening paragraph is dead-on. The only thing you don’t mention is that the auto manufacturers no longer produce cars for elderly drivers to purchase. Being in my 60s, I wish they still made simple cars like this. But alas.

    Like 1
  30. reed

    mail carriers love these wagons

    Like 0
  31. ADM

    I like these cars. They were easy to drive, and(to me) trouble free. My ex-wife’s mother had a loaded ’86 wagon, and we had an ’87 Dodge 600 sedan. Obviously, they were a far cry from the ’60’s and ’70’s cars, but they worked for the time, and I think many people welcomed them.

    Like 2
  32. George Louis

    Concerning the comment about the automatic transmissions” The A 413 auto transmission that was hooked up to the 2.2/2.5 Litre engine was a good transmission, the problem came when Mr. lido A. Iococoa Chairman of the Board of The Chrysler Corporation (God Rest His Soul) insisted that the Mini Van and the Large Cars: Dynasty .Chrysler New Yorker, Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue, Chrysler Imperial, launched in 1990, get the NEW electronic control automatic transmission known as the A604 Transmission. This transmission was RUSHED to the market and just was not ready to be on the street. The Company spent a TON of warranty money on this transmission .

    Like 0
    • dwcisme

      I worked at a rental company when the A604 was produced. A customer was accelerating onto a freeway (in the rain) at “about” 100 km when the trans suddenly downshifted to first throwing it into a spin. Fortunately, nothing else of major consequence happened. I was told that the computer for the trans was in a box in a wheel well which filled with water and “drowned”. We had hundreds of cars with these transmissions and we never had any other big moment issues that I remember but, we only kept the cars to about 20-30,0 00 km.

      Like 0
  33. George Louis

    The first Front Wheel Drive Cars produced in Belvidere, Il Plant Code 4015 were the 1978 Plymouth Horizon Four Door Sedan and the Dodge Omni Four door sedan. These cars were initially built with the Volkswagen 1.7 Litre four cylinder engine with a four speed gear box. The first K Cars were Built for the 1981 Model year and consisted of: Plymouth Reliant, Dodge Aires. Each offered a 2 Door Coupe, 4 Door Sedan, 4 Door Station wagon. Then a bunch of derivatives followed. Initial production of the K Cars was at the Jefferson Plant Plant Code 4010 in Detroit, Mi and the Newark, De Plant, plant code 04070. Cars were built with the 2.2 Litre carburetor engine and choice of Manual or Automatic Transmission. The 2.5 Litre engine with option engine came later as well as fuel injection.

    Like 0
  34. Robert

    My dad had the sedan version of this car. I learned to drive in it. Or rather, learned how not to drive in it. Sad fact: High rpm neutral drops may spin the front tires a little bit, but the K series has very little tolerance for horseplay. Lol. Sorry dad.

    Like 0
  35. Richard Sikes

    I had self owned company car as a traveling negotiator for a natural gas company in 1990-1991. My territory was Dallas to the California Border. Went about once a week for two years. Mine was a silver 1984 4 door with 2.2 auto and that same bench seat. They paid me IRS mileage rates. It never broke down, except a head gasket as I was just pulling into my driveway after coming in from Arizona once. I had it repaired properly. I think I had about 145,000 highway miles on it when I sold it for $2,000. I had made a lot of money on the mileage charges though. It was comfortable, but basic transportation and got decent MPG.

    Like 0
  36. PRA4SNW

    So many K car stories – here’s mine.

    My dad always liked Chryslers, so he bought my mother an Aries 4 door, must have been 1st or 2nd model year.

    They drove it home from the dealership, probably 15 miles, and my dad made the comment that it wasn’t shifting gears properly, so I checked the transmission fluid and there was none! I flipped and told them to call the dealership and demand another car and have this one towed back. Instead, my dad called them and they told him to come down for some fluid, so that’s what he did.

    They never had any major problems with that car as I recall, and it led to at least another K sedan and several minivans.

    Like 0

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