The cars we loved.
The turbo revolution of the 80’s was spearheaded mostly by Chrysler in the American market. Cash starved and working from remnants of its K platform, Chrysler needed a way to make V6 and V8 like power with a stock of small inline fours. Every brand in Chrysler’s arsenal used some variation of these engines in naturally aspirated or turbocharged form. For its lowest price car, the flagship brand bestowed the Le Baron with two turbo options in 2.2 or 2.5 guise.
The Le Baron name had been around since the 1930’s. Chrysler used the name on a series of cars during the 80’s that garnered praise in sedan form due to its deft handling. A new Le Baron was introduced using a modified version of the K platform (called J) in 1987. It came in attractive sedan, coupe and convertible form. The convertible was a huge success. In many ways sustaining Chrysler to the point that it could afford to buy Lamborghini. Not so popular, but still successful was the Le Baron.
Essentially Chrysler’s answer to the Thunderbird and Monte Carlo, the Le Baron was a midsized personal luxury coupe that undercut its rivals in price. It was initially available with naturally aspirated or turbo four-cylinder engines. These engine choices seemed odd considering that the competition was still offering V6 and sometimes V8 power. Chrysler tried making up for the lack of cylinders with style. Chrysler always seemed to have a knack for turning out stylish cars on a shoestring budget. The Le Baron was no exception. The look was smart and stylish enough to become the inspiration for the high dollar Chrysler TC by Maserati. The shape was sleek and aerodynamic with pop up headlights and wrap around tail lights. Very much an early 90’s shape until you went inside. The cabin’s blocky dash and door panels looked much like the Daytona but were out-of-place when coupled with such an aerodynamic and modern exterior. Some cars were equipped with a busy digital dash, but most buyers opted for the straight forward analogue dials. A five speed manual enhanced the sporting nature of the Le Baron, but looked out-of-place in an interior where a column based automatic would have looked more appropriate. All shifters were placed on the floor, for a sporting touch and more importantly because the shared components with the Daytona were made that way. The Daytona and Le baron’s interiors were almost exactly alike. The Daytona’s cabin was sportier, while the addition of padding, leather and fake woodgrain suited the Le Baron’s mission of luxury.
By 1989 a sporty derivative called the GTC was available. With its 174hp version of the 2.2, it was a scrappy performer with a 7.4 second 0 to 60 time. That was impressive by 80’s sport coupe standards, even better than far more expensive cars. Straight line performance aside, the Le Baron showed its K car origins when pushed to its limits. The engine was harsh and loud at speed with plenty of vibration. The sport suspension offered respectable handling on smooth roads, but like many other American cars of this era, it came undone on rough surfaces. The 2.5L was available as a turbo, but had 25 less horsepower than the smaller engine. What it lacked in power, it made up for in smoothness. The 2.5 was more in line with the LeBaron’s mission as a luxury coupe and was only available with an
automatic transmission. The 2.2 felt more like a Daytona, but with a conflicted suspension torn between sport (thicker anti-roll bars and 16in wheels) and luxury (gas shocks with generous wheel travel).
Starting in 1990, a major refresh of the interior brought it into the 90’s with new gauges and door panels. Other changes in 92 and 93 would introduce blackout and colored keyed trim and exposed headlights. 1990 would also be the year that the Le Baron would get the Mitsubishi built 3.0 V6. The V6 only had 141 hp, but was by far the smoothest power plant offered in the Le Baron and became a popular option. This engine lived on to find its way into convertible versions of the Eclipse well into the 90’s. The 2.2 and 2.5 were still available from 1990 to 1992 with no less than 5 trim levels in turbo or non-turbo versions. While newer more powerful versions of the 2.2 evolved in the Daytona, the Le Baron moved to the V6 as its primary motivation. The trim levels would taper off with sales. Still popular, but dated in its final year of 1995, the Le Baron would be replaced by the equally popular Sebring coupe and convertible built at Chrysler’s joint venture factory with Mitsubishi in Illinois.