The cars we loved.
No one remembers bronze metal winners or third place finishers. With no big contracts, endorsements or bragging rights obscurity usually awaits. So is the case with the Dodge Daytona/Chrysler Laser twins. To say they faded into obscurity might be too strong a statement. You can’t blame it for being in the shadow of classic pony cars like the Camaro and Mustang. The Daytona name evoked Chrysler’s muscle car heritage, even though it was closer in spirit to emerging import sport coupes from Japan. That’s too bad because some versions of the Daytona were quite capable of out performing the V8 powered domestic and four cylinder Japanese competition.
Compared with the domestic competition, it suffered from two primary handicaps: chassis origns and small engines. Chrysler’s G body platform evolved from the K Car, itself the source of dozens of mundane econoboxes and would be luxury cars that saved the company from bankruptcy. The platform was designed for front wheel drive during a time when true pony cars were all sending power to the rear (and they still are!).
The second handicap or blessing (depending on your point of view) was the engine line up which relied on naturally aspirated and turbo 4 cylinder engines vs 6 and 8’s for GM and Ford’s offerings.
Chrysler had a two prong approach to dealing with any chassis limitations by using Shelby to tune top versions of the Daytona while marketing the softer riding Laser for luxury. While Ford was notable for offering a 4 cylinder turbo SVO Mustang, it did not sell well and was more often than not compared to the lesser power but lighter Daytona Turbo Z. As the 80’s moved on, Chrysler began to market the car against imports like the Toyota Celica. Many imports had independent rear suspensions, while the Daytona like the Mustang and Camaro had live axel rears that handicapped real world performance.
Unlike the Mustang and Camaro, the Daytona offered flashy electronics that were little more than cheezy gadgets like talking sensors and LED displays. These features had become standard in many high tech Japanese imports. Chrysler attempted to appeal to that market on one end and the hairy chest crowd with the other. The Laser was dropped in 1986 as Chrysler developed the luxury “Pacifica” line of the Daytona. The Laser returned as a separate car in the Diamond Star partnership with Mitsubish in 1989.
As the design for the Daytona evolved, various changes to it’s turbo powerplant yielded more power. By the late 80’s it was up to 174. Eventually it toped out to 225 in the 2.5 L Turbo III 4 cylinder offered in the IROC R/T. On it’s own terms the Daytona was an impressive performer, doing 0 to 60 around 7 seconds. At it’s best, it offered some of the performance of an old muscle car with high tech electronics, but never went far enough to appeal to the die hard rear wheel drive club or the car buyers who were increasingly choosing sporty imports. The Daytona may have tried to be too much to many. Although it was successful overall, it never sold in the volume of the F-bodied cars, Mustangs or even Celicas. The Daytona was replaced by the Avenger in 1993, a car that look faster than it was with 4 and 6 cylinder engine options.