The cars we loved.
In America, the traditional front engine rear drive pony car was being reimagined for the 80’s with Ford’s Mustang in 1979 followed by GM’s Camaro/Firebird in 1982. Last out the gate was Chrysler’s attempt, the Daytona/ Laser in late 1983. The new car, chassis code-named G-24, had a lot riding on it. On one end it would be a replacement for the Mitsubishi based rear drive Conquest. On the other end it would compete with four to eight cylinder Mustangs and Camaros. As Chrysler’s first sports car the G-24 project aimed not just at domestic pony cars, but also the heavy hitting imports like the Nissan 300Zx and Porsche’s 924. The Porsche 924 was an early benchmark that Chrysler equaled in many performance respects. Aiming high had the benefit of turning out the traditional American pony car concept with front wheel drive and four cylinders based turbocharging.
Turbo’s weren’t new to pony cars. Ford had a dubious flirtation with turbocharging with the Mustang from 1979 to 1981 and then a few years later with the Euro influenced SVO. However impressive the horsepower number was relative to the V8 offered at the time, it was unreliable and often was prone to overheating and catching fire in earlier versions. Chrysler alleviated overheating issues with a clever air/oil management and even created system called ‘fail soft” that allowed the car to be driven in the event of a catastrophic turbo failure.
Chrysler’s new pony cars were a dramatic departure from the old guard products at Ford and GM, yet retained the kind of packaging that hid its front drive genes rather well. The resulting Daytona Turbo Z, made 142 hp from a 2.2 liter transverse four-cylinder. Not bad for an engine that essentially came from the Reliant/Aries K cars. The power figure was even more impressive when you consider that some V8 Camaros and Mustangs had only a few more hp, but with more weight. The normally aspirated 2.2 I the base car made 98 hp, a figure comparable to base versions of both the Mustang and the Camaro/Firebird pair. As a consolidation to base owners, the Daytona could achieve as much as 44 mpg when equipped with the four speed manual with 5th gear overdrive.
Between the Daytona and Laser, there was something for everyone. From the low-end normally aspirated base cars to the loaded Laser XT turbo, all the bases were covered with either a standard hardtop or T top with removable glass panels. Although the Daytona and Laser were not officially offered as drop tops, conversions were offered by Auto-Form. Their 85′ Laser convertible revealed its K car roots from some angles. The LeBaron would eventually become Chrysler’s official luxurious convertible a few years later. The G-24 cars were basically split up with two missions: the Daytona for all out sport driving and the Laser for more comfortable grand touring performance. As a result the Daytona had quicker steering ratios, a more stiffly sprung ride and was available with fewer luxury options.
The Daytona came in three models; base, Turbo and Turbo Z. Oddly, the term “Turbo Z” was often applied to Nissan’s 300ZX Turbo, but there was no confusing the two as the Nissan was rear wheel drive and the front wheel drive Chrysler product resembled the Camaro’s take on a modern pony car. The Daytona derived its name from the famous 1969-70 Daytona Chargers with their aero noses. Aside from the name, little linked the 1982 Daytona to its legendary namesake. The Daytona had the distinction of being the most aerodynamic Chrysler product ever, with a cd of 0.378. The similarly looking Laser was a bit less drag resistant due to a less aggressive and integrated rear spoiler. It would 1987 before the Daytona would get pop up headlights, lowering the cd figure somewhat.
Attention to aerodynamics helped the Daytona reach a 0 to 60 time in the low 8 second range. That was faster than the typical Camaro and Mustang and closer to the Nissan 300ZX and Porsche 924. In an early comparison test between the Camaro Z28, Mustang GT and Daytona Z, the Dodge ranked second in subjective performance. With a curb weight of 2,651 lbs., the Daytona was lighter than the Camaro, but heavier than the Mustang. The Daytona was not only fast in its turbo guise, but the base model with it’s 2.2 normally aspirated engine could manage the run to 60 in 10 seconds, a respectable figure that was better than the four-cylinder versions of the base Camaro and Mustang.
Mechanically the Daytona was typical of the period. An independent MacPherson front strut suspension and beam axle rear with anti-sway bars was not much different from many other emerging front wheel drive car of the period. The Daytona however was packed with technology, much of it gimmicky and no doubt influenced by Chrysler’s Japanese partner Mitsubishi. The squared edge interior featured a blocky instrument cluster that laid out all the information the driver could want, thanks to a computer command center that monitored 20 different car functions. A stereo with a cassette player digital tuning rounded the entertainment options. Chrysler went to great lengths to improve the seating’s side bolstering for greater driver support during sporting maneuvers. It paid off, as the Daytona and it’s twin the Laser were often cited for having comfortable and supportive seats.
There were plans for an even more exciting Daytona with a Lotus engineered 2.5 litre 16 valve engine. The proposed car would have ranked above the Turbo Z and would have featured all-wheel drive. Chrysler, seemingly always scrapped for money, had to cancel development of the”super Daytona” and made do with evolutionary upgrades. One of the upgrades came in the form of the Competition Series (CS) package. It included beefed spring rates, sway-bars and tires. The CS cars offered performance tuning similar to the Shelby Daytona that would come later. A normally aspirated V6 would later become the top Daytona. The body would become more streamlined as lights became flushed and the formerly grey body cladding became body colored began to look more integrated into the body.
The Daytona and to some extent the Laser represented Chrysler’s typically unconventional take on a segment. Although Chrysler had scored home runs with the K cars and later the Mini Van, the Daytona/Laser twins would be relegated to third place status among American pony cars. Not that they were not popular, they even had the distinction of being included into the Matchbox toy line up during the early 80’s. The relatively low sales and production numbers (relative to Camaro and Mustangs) combined with a reputation for less than stellar reliability has made good working examples of these cars a rare sight today. They filled a gap until Chrysler’s more modern co-engineered Diamond Star cars would come later in the decade. The Daytona continued on until the early 90’s while the Laser name became a Plymouth branded DiamonStar product until 1995.