As a child growing up in the 1980s, I am intimately familiar with the Chrysler K-car platform. Much has been written about how this era-defining unibody came to be, how it ultimately proved a stunning success and saved the company from the brink of economic disaster, so there’s no need to rehash all of that history here. Suffice it to say, though, that the platform was so ubiquitous that for a couple of decades you could hardly make a quick run to the grocery store without being surrounded by a bevy of K-based Pentastars.
I will admit to ignoring the initial K cars as a child. The box-it-came-in appearance did not appeal to me at all, and the fact that they were so common meant they basically just blended in with the scenery. Those initial Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant sedans and wagons, though, would give way to fancier models and nameplates, including the LeBaron. The name may have dated all the way back to the days when coach-built vehicles were common, but by the time the 1980s rolled around the LeBaron was little more than a slight variation on Chrysler’s standard vehicle architecture. But it did mark one important milestone: the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron was the first domestic convertible since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.
Why the Chrysler LeBaron convertible?
It’s funny how something that seems deeply uncool in your youth can transform into something you secretly admire as you grow older. For me, that’s true of the boxy LeBaron convertible. The more streamlined version that debuted in 1987 based on the J platform, which was in reality still based on the old K, is also interesting and seems likely to appreciate over time, but the older early-80s LeBaron convertible rectangles are starting to get collectible. That’s especially true of the faux-woody Town & Country models that were offered from 1983 through 1986.
The fact that the K-car platform was mechanically simple is a bonus for would-be buyers looking to buy an older LeBaron convertible. Chrysler’s well-traveled 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine is also a durable powerplant, and in turbocharged guise offers better performance than most buyers would expect. Larger 2.5-liter engines were also offered, along with a 2.6-liter four-cylinder sourced from Mitsubishi.
Oh, and did we mention that these cars talk? Well, they do. Sort of. They verbally remind owners to do normal things like put their seatbelts on or close their doors, but they also are programmed to alert for potential problems, like low oil pressure. And they do so in a perfectly robotic voice.
Which Chrysler LeBaron convertible to choose?
We mentioned the wood-paneled LeBaron Town & Country earlier, and that’s the model we’d try to search out to maximize the early-80s kitsch and potential collectibility. There was also a fancy Mark Cross edition that’s worth looking out for. We’d also prefer the turbocharged engine, for obvious reasons, complete with its louvered hood. Granted, it’s probably pretty difficult to find a LeBaron convertible with all of those desirable trim packages and features, so it might be necessary for a potential collector to cast a wide net or pick which options are most important to them. Pricing is all over the board, but still comparatively inexpensive for a somewhat collectible automobile.
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What else to consider?
We’re talking specifically about the LeBaron convertible, but you may also be able to find an interesting LeBaron wagon, complete with woody body trim. There’s also the later and significantly less boxy LeBaron convertible models we mentioned earlier. Several years later, Chrysler would debut the Sebring convertible, a much more modern design that has yet to start appreciating.
Looking outside the Pentastar family, Ford sold a lot of Fox-body Mustang convertibles in the 80s, and good clean examples can still be found. GM made some interesting convertibles, too, including souped-up versions of the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunbird. European brands also offered some blocky 80s convertibles, but those don’t really seem to compete with the LeBaron in this particular fantasy garage.