The cars we loved.
The Lancer was the mid-sized 5 door hatchback twin of the Lebaron GTS. Both cars were based on Chrysler’s H platform which (like most chrysler products of this era) got it’s humble beginnings from the original K car platform. When released in 1985, it was greeted with optimism from the media and the public gradually began to warm up to it.
By 1987, Dodge saw fit to introduce a limited production performance version in a partnership with Shelby. The resulting car, built by Shelby, was initially offered in red only. The Shelby Lancer was the American answer to BMW’s 3 Series and Peugeot’s 405. It was well appointed inside and out, offering one of the first CD systems in any American car. Only about 800 were produced with half getting a 3 speed automatic and the rest a 5 speed manual transmission. Visually distinctive, the Shelby Lancer had 15 in wheels, ground effects and marking indicating Shelby as opposed to Dodge. It also featured an experimental 4 wheel disc braking system.
Motivation came from a Chrysler supplied 2.2 L SOHC inline 4 cylinder turbocharged engine. At just over 3,000 lb, the little four’s 175 hp was less than rocket like, but the Shelby roadholding abilities were better than average with a skidpad figure of 0.85g. Other Shelby cars from Chrysler like the smaller GLHS offered better performance due to it’s smaller size and lighter weight, but the Shelby Lancer was intended to be a comfortable sport tourer, a role it ballanced well with performance.
Shelby’s participation in the Lancer project changed, to the point where 1988 to 89 cars were produced by Chrysler with Shelby specific parts. Now called Dodge Lancer Shelby, these cars were actually more rare, as their production numbers were considerbally smaller. Changes in the front end and other colors were added most notablly white. As used cars, all Lancers from this era are hard to find in good working condition. The Shelby’s in particular had some reliability issues like failing turbos and electrical glitches that would make them more a mechanics project than a teens dream. Couriously, the Lancer name lives on in a Mitsubishi product. Chrysler has a long history of colloboration with it’s Japanese partner. Maybe this will mean that a Dodge version of the car sourced from Mitsubishi might be in our future.